What is the relationship of baptism to church membership? This question often surfaces in the church. The New Testament makes clear that one makes a confession of faith in the context of, and in concordance with the community of faith. The testimony of baptism is quite rightly a confession which places the individual in allegiance with the community of faith. It is for this reason that a person is welcomed into the membership of the church pursuant to their baptism as a reminder of this truth.
But is baptism as a believer essential to membership? We as a church have a policy of open membership: a person can be a member if not baptised as a believer but have been baptised in another denomination either as an infant, or as a believer. This acceptance grows out of a commitment to freedom of conscience for all, who may rightly affirm the meaning of their own baptism and subsequent confirmation, whilst at the same time recognising the reality of a "universal church" which is far bigger than the tag "Baptist". As a Baptist Church, we will still proclaim the necessity of baptism as the response of obedience, for it is what we find in Scripture and have affirmed in our tradition. But we will still allowing for others whose theology may be different to our own, accepting them as true brothers and sisters in the faith. What unites us is our commitment to mission and service in the local context. It is this, in faith, that is the basis of membership.
The other important question is why have membership at all? Is it not sufficient that our names are written in the Book of Life? In the ideal world, that would be enough. Membership is no more than an outward sign of an inward reality - that we belong to one another; it is no less than a commitment to serve Christ by serving one another and the local community. If membership is no more than a name on a roll, it is meaningless tokenism. If it is a reminder to all that we are committed to one another in Christ, it is worth emphasising and belonging in this way.
April 24, 1994